Thursday, September 24, 2009

Banned Books Week... Why all the Celebrating?

Banned Books Week beings September 26- October 3, 2009 It is an effort to bring about awareness of censorship in our society. It is also useless, intellectually devoid of reason and waste of time for libraries to be pursuing as an agenda. There are so many problems with this celebration that it is really hard to know where to begin. The American Library Association has stated in the LIbrary Bill of Rights, Article 3 that, "Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment." Thank goodness there were not oaths to take as a librarian at the point of receiving the degree. It would have been difficult for me to accept based on this premiss. It would take a snob with glasses sliding down their nose to scold anyone on the importance of intellectual freedom and censorship. The arguments for promoting Banned Books falls flat on its face.
Censorship in America truly does not exist. There are indeed numerous school libraries who have complained of "censorship" because parents, and school boards opposed certain books on the libraries shelf. Common sense should prevail here, but it often does not. The "censorship" of Harry Potter for school and pubic libraries did not prevent the book from being read by thousands of children and adults. Rather it may have spurred the sales because of the controversy. If one librarian did lose the fight to keep poor old Harry in her library, how would this have impacted her patrons? With all the bookstores pilling the books in their storefront windows or having midnight parties on the day the latest installment was to be released, the impact would have been minimal. Also, using another library would not be out of the question, even if it is borrowing from a personal library of a neighbor. What is the penalty for a child to have the "banned book" in their possession? If the child is hung by their toenails and whipped in front of the entire school for such disobedience, that would be a crime. Something to truly fight against. However, this does not happen. At worst, the child could get suspended at the very least, told not to bring the book back to school. How barbaric! School boards, library boards and any other authority can no stop the publication, distribution or reading of any book in America. When the United States Government comes to the point where they will stop publication and distribution materials that is "inappropriate" in their eyes, then we have a problem.
Banned books presumes that all books are worthy to be read and have value. That somehow the act of getting published merits librarians to defend the book at all cost. Anyone who is an avid reader will argue that fact! Not all books should be read and honestly, there are others that should not have been written at all because of poor plots or writing. Every book that is on the list of Banned Books have caused controversy. A literary work is placed on the list when their is a complaint filed against it because of its language, subject matter or philosophy. For some authors it seems to be a badge of honor to have their work placed here. Controversy always sells and what better way to get free publicity than to have an association such as the American Libraries Association to promote your book? Which comes as no surprise that the authors, publishers and book distributers all support the agenda for Banned Book Week. It benefits them in monetary ways.
The American Library Association has also stated that children have the right to read the books that they choose. There has to be some common sense here also and it is always lost with the intellectual idealism that warps many minds. Children are children, that is to say they do not bare the same responsibilities as adults. Nor should they. When making a statement that children have the right to read whatever they'd like, it does not count into the debate that children do not have "rights" under the law. A child does have the right to be free from physical harm, a safe home and school. However, a child does not have a right to vote, to make their own medical decision, or even to choose not to get an education. All of these rights are given to the legal guardian. It is time as professional librarians to face the fact that parents do have the right to tell their child what they think is best for them to read. If a parent does not want Harry Potter or Twilight to be in their home because they feel it isn't right for their child to read, they should be able to do so without being casted as some weirdo who is stuck in the middle ages. Most children will read books that follow the same values as they are being taught at home and school. Rarely do they go off to read something that is radically different. However, if they do, isn't it the parent's right to stop their children from reading the materials? After all, the job of PARENTING is not the librarians. Let's take an extreme scenario because for argument sake we can. What happens when a child decides he/she would like a book written by the KKK or other radical groups, what should be the parent's reaction? Are they doing a report on the topic? Or are they falling for a philosophy that was never taught at home, such as racial superiority? This is the job for the parent to decide whether they want this information in the home, not the child.
Lastly, the dirty little secret about Intellectual freedom and censorship is that librarians practice it every day! It's called collection development. On a day to day basis, librarians decide what books, will go on the shelves and what books don't pass the grade. It is based on book reviews, content of the material and the need for information in a subject area. Like it or not, it is also based on what patrons are demanding. Sometimes, librarians might even let their own bias get in the way. (Don't get me started on novels based on Shakespeare's works! But that is topic for another day.)
It would be better for librarians and their associations to concern themselves with worthwhile causes that actually promote libraries. Battling an issue such as censorship in America is like trying to fight the monster in the closet. He's not there, he doesn't exist and so it's time to move on.

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